A little phrase Charlie said to me in the car last night signalled his increasing awareness of a subject he's struggled to grasp and articulate: Gender.
Starting when he was about 5, there've been attempts to teach Charlie the difference between "man/woman," "boy/girl," first with flashcards with carefully selected photos of these pasted on and then with real live people. Society's collapsing of gender markers like "pants for boys, skirts and dresses for girls" and short hair vs. long hair have made identifying those photos supremely difficult for Charlie. With actual people, his responses were sometimes right and sometimes not. Since it's always possible to be 50% right about whether someone is a boy/girl, or man/woman, we could never quite tell if Charlie meant what he said and said what we meant.
Nevertheless. No data or "hard evidence" to back this up, but, based on how he acts, Charlie knows the difference. Up until he was about 7, all of his therapists, teachers, and aides were women (a not uncommon situation in the special education teaching, and the teaching of younger children). When Charlie was 9, he had one male home ABA therapist and two male aides at school and he definitely seemed more animated and active around them. The therapist and the aides were all tall and were quite able to give Charlie piggy-back rides and to toss him around (which Charlie loved). At his elementary school, Charlie had access to a bicycle and he would ride it around the parking lot, with the aides running after him.
All three guys were, as they told us, very fond of teaching Charlie. From speaking to them, I got the sense that school hadn't been their favorite thing growing up and they always seemed to relish being able to run around and be active and energetic with Charlie. (And so you can imagine what a loss it was to Charlie when he went to middle school in September of 2008 and it was decreed, no more of that kind of "kidstuff.") (Plus, both of the male aides were sent to work with high school students.)
It's also the case that Charlie has at times aimed a hand in the chest area of some female teachers and therapists and of yours truly. Charlie doesn't do this with male teachers and therapists or with Jim. It's not been a big deal to redirect this kind of thing. Indeed, if we make too big a deal of it, Charlie is very likely to try to do it more.
So when, yesterday night in the car, Charlie said:
"Gong Gong Daddy. Po Po Mommy"
I first thought, First time he's said that, and then it occurred to me, I think he's pairing the four of us by gender. And also articulating his knowledge.
(It is the case that I do wear skirts and dresses from time to time. And I think it wouldn't be inaccurate to say that Charlie's made note of this too.)
Thursday was also the first day around here that felt more like "the usual usual"---I can't write normal; a fair amount of people would not consider our daily existence "normal." Charlie woke up at 6.30am which gave him plenty of time to lie around in bed until he was fully awake, get dressed, run around the house and poke around the kitchen, use the computer, write and talk about the date with me, and load up the white car with various items (not the CD case---he looked crestfallen when we told him we were going to give it a rest, but then seemed content with the radio). He had a good day at school and a good rest of the day at home, going on two brisk walks with Jim.
It was the first day of no major drama in a while for us unless of course you count Jim and his book in yesterday's New York Times.
And that little phrase that Charlie said.